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Review: IHG’s Principal York hotel – fool me once, fool me twice

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This is our review of the Principal York hotel. This hotel is part of IHG and IHG One Rewards despite being unbranded.

Two years ago I had a terrible stay at the Principal York hotel. I didn’t write about it because we weren’t actually in the hotel for long and didn’t experience much apart from the awful rooms we were given as top tier members of IHG Rewards. I had a chat with the GM, compensation was paid (a full refund for both of the rooms we booked) and I got on with my life.

Until last week.

Review Principal York hotel exterior

You can learn more about the hotel, and book, on its website here.

On a family stay in York back in April we made sure we avoided the Principal and headed to the nearby Hampton instead. However, this time my wife wasn’t there (I can’t risk divorce by taking her back to the Principal) and I was lured back because I needed to catch an early morning train. The Principal is literally attached to York Station.

As the GM told me herself two years ago – to paraphrase, since I can’t remember the exact words – ‘we have five star public areas but we don’t have five star rooms and this causes us huge problems’. This is true. IHG knows it too, which is why it can’t rebrand Principal York – it doesn’t make sense for any of the core brands to take it on.

The back story

Principal York came into IHG when it acquired 13 UK hotels, including the Principal and De Vere brands, from Starwood Capital in 2018.

Starwood Capital had been buying up historic UK hotels and throwing huge amounts of money at them. Once bought by IHG, Principal London became Kimpton Fitzroy and Principal Manchester became Kimpton Clocktower.

Principal Edinburgh Charlotte Square and Principal Blythswood Square Hotel Glasgow also became Kimpton hotels, whilst Principal Cardiff became the first voco in the Europe. Principal Edinburgh George Street returned to being an InterContinental, the brand it had until 2015.

Starwood Capital had made a tactical error though. It was buying up old, often Victorian, hotels with tiny rooms, and leaving them tiny. The base rooms at Kimpton Fitzroy are probably the smallest of any luxury hotel in London. You can spend all the money you want on fancy public spaces but when your guests get to their expensive room and find that it is virtually no bigger than the bed, things aren’t going to end well.

Principal York doesn’t have air conditioning in many rooms which, I believe, is a brand standard for Kimpton – the most natural brand home for this hotel. Principal Manchester had it retrofitted to allow it to be rebranded.

Principal York has astonishing interiors

Let’s be clear about this. The public areas of Principal York are probably in the Top 5 of all UK hotels outside London. It is astonishingly well done, from the antique suitcases scattered around reception to the lovely new conservatory / restaurant and the beautiful library / afternoon tea room. Even the staircase is one of the most impressive in any UK hotel. See:

Review Principal York hotel lobby

and

Review Principal York hotel tea room

and

Review Principal York hotel lobby

and

Review Principal York hotel tea room

It’s hugely impressive.

Rooms at the Principal York hotel

The rooms are where it falls apart. For a start, the hotel has an astoundingly ugly modern extension with additional rooms in it. This is beyond hope and should be demolished. The only upside is that a lot of hotel guests won’t actually realise that the extension is part of the hotel because it is separated by function rooms.

Base rooms in the main historic building are small and dark based on my experience and should be avoided. The hotel won’t upgrade you out of these, however high your status, based on what happened to me two years ago.

This time, though, I had a plan. I booked a Junior Suite. The price difference over a base room was modest (the Junior Suite was £152, base rooms were £110+) and just look at what you get, based on these two pictures from the hotel website:

Review Principal York hotel junior suite

and

Review Principal York hotel junior suite

Except, this is what I got:

Review Principal York hotel bedroom

Hmmm. I went back to reception and pointed out the disparity. I also pointed out that my room looked surprisingly like the pictures of a Premium Room on the hotel website.

It seemed to me that I had been downgraded without my knowledge, although the hotel claimed that my room was a Junior Suite just like the one in the top two images above. This is despite the fact that the hotel’s own website claims that all junior suites have a ‘lounge seating area’ which mine didn’t.

What was weirder was that ihg.com showed two Juniors Suites and two full suites (why was I not upgraded to one of those anyway, as a Diamond Elite?) still available for sale.

Unfortunately, my son had taken away my bargaining power by going straight to sleep as soon as we got into the room. By the time I’d done my digging into what I’d been given vs what was available, it was too late to move. Suffice it to say that – for my second stay running – an acceptable financial and non-financial settlement was reached ….

The rest of my room

Let’s quickly run over the rest of the room. I had no complaints about the bed, although the sole USB socket was broken:

Review Principal York hotel bed

There was no coffee machine, which is a little odd for a ‘suite’ (if indeed this was a junior suite), but you got a kettle and a pot of teabags etc. I did like the ‘coffee bags’ supplied which were a marked step up from sachets. A couple of bags of crisps were also provided for free.

The minibar, not pictured, contained a bottle of IHG-branded water in a refillable glass bottle.

The bathroom wasn’t bad except for the single sink:

Review Principal York hotel bathroom

and

Review Principal York hotel shower

Toiletries were branded ‘Antipodes’ in large refillable containers. Everything was marked ‘blackcurrant’ which was a little odd – I’m not sure if people want their hair smelling of blackcurrant …..

For some reason the wardrobe was tucked in a little corridor inside the room, instead of facing the bed:

Review Principal York hotel wardrobe

If your room is in the main historic building, and front facing, you will have a view of York Minster and the small park in front of the hotel:

Review Principal York hotel view

Wi-Fi

I should mention the wi-fi. It was terrible. By far the worst hotel wi-fi I have had in many years.

For the bulk of my stay I had just one ‘bar’ showing on my laptop, and ended up having to tether my mobile phone in order to get any work done. My son had similar issues with his Nintendo Switch. It simply isn’t good enough in 2022.

Breakfast at the Principal York hotel

Breakfast is free to Diamond Elite members if you select it at check-in as your Welcome Amenity. York is relatively cheap in terms of hotel pricing so getting two breakfasts thrown in is, proportionately, a big saving.

The buffet is surprisingly modest – I didn’t ask if the additionally priced cooked items were included for Diamond members but I guess not – but it’s a lovely room. The space operates as a restaurant for the rest of the day.

Review Principal York hotel garden room

What was bizarre was that all of the guests were made to sit in a line by one wall. If you look at the photo above, you would think that the dining room was empty. It wasn’t. However, we’d all been made to sit in a line (out of shot to the right of the picture) – with tiny gaps between the tables – despite this huge space being available. Odd.

Conclusion

I really, really want to like Principal York. I have a soft spot for old railway hotels and a huge sum was spent on the public areas here.

Whilst the base rooms are appalling, I learnt my lesson two years ago and thought that – with a Junior Suite – I’d have a pleasant room to match the public spaces.

Sadly my apparent downgrade (for clarity, the hotel continues to insist that the two rooms pictured above are both Junior Suites despite the huge disparity in size, and it is just a coincidence that my room looks like a Premium Room) meant that it didn’t work out.

Will I now admit defeat and head to the utilitarian Hampton – which is usually pricier than the Principal – next time I need to be very near to the station? Only time will tell …..

The hotel website is here.


IHG One Rewards update – September 2022:

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Comments (120)

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  • Michael says:

    Stayed at the Principal last month as a Spire Elite to use a free night before it expired. I had high expectations. I should have known better.
    Location to the station was excellent, and the public areas were magnificent. Breakfast was good. That is where the good points end.
    The rooms were small, and mine was the blandest room I have ever stayed in. They painted every surface the same beige colour – walls, skirting, doors, ceiling, etc. It felt like a prison cell, albeit a very posh one. All the furnishings and fabrics were variations on the beige colour.
    It was if the interior designers went to B&Q and picked on of the paint chips and decided to use the the same 5 variations of the same colour.
    Bar service wasn’t that great either when you sit unattended for a long period in full view of staff who ignore you.
    I wasn’t impressed with Princiipal.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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